Pivot - Critical summary review - Jenny Blake

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Pivot - critical summary review

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Career & Business

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0143129031

Publisher: Portfolio

Critical summary review

According to a recent Gallup study, nine out of 10 workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged from their jobs.” Despite working as a career development specialist for none other than Google, Jenny Blake wasn’t the exception in 2011. So, she made the difficult decision to leave the internet search giant and launch a consulting business of her own. Few were impressed with her courage. “People reacted as if I were breaking up with Brad Pitt,” she remembers in “Pivot,” a guidebook for “changing careers in the age of the app.” And yet, it all turned out great in the end: she is currently the happiest and healthiest she has ever been and, regardless of the ups and downs of her business, feels calm and engaged with her work most of the time.

In “Pivot,” Blake explains why her seemingly strange decision, in fact, made a lot of sense in the economy of today and offers a framework to help you manage any job-shifting process with focus, fulfillment, and fun. So, get ready to discover why, when it comes to your career, pivoting is the new normal, and prepare to learn how to do it right so as to minimize the losses and maximize the gains!

The times they are a-changin’

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employee tenure in America currently stands at four to five years, with job roles usually changing dramatically within that time. Among workers aged 25-34, the average tenure drops to a little over three years. Not only is the average millennial already boasting a résumé long enough to form a booklet, they are also expected to change between 15 and 20 jobs in the course of their working years. It’s, in other words, an understatement to say that gone are the days of lifelong loyalty to a company. The word “career” itself might be dead, with the economy becoming increasingly project-based.

People don’t seem to be interested anymore in staying at the same job for 40 years in exchange for security and a pension plan. In fact, millennials are pretty cynical toward both, especially after experiencing the financial crisis of 2008 as teenagers. With entrepreneurship on the rise and technology surging forward at breakneck speeds, accumulating experience is no longer as important as it used to be. What is – is being able to adapt. For as much as millennials don’t like commitments, they do like change. And the new economy is all about change. Don’t resist it, says Blake, but learn to embrace it. The times have obviously changed. “Your choice, today and in the future, is to pivot or get pivoted.”

In case you don’t know, in basketball, a pivot is when a player maintains one foot firmly in place while utilizing the other to rotate their body to improve position and explore passing options. “Much like a basketball player,” explains Blake, “successful career pivots start by planting your feet – setting a strong foundation – and then scanning the court for opportunities, staying rooted while exploring options. Scanning alone will not put points on the board, so eventually you start passing the ball around the court – testing ideas and getting feedback, or piloting – generating perspectives and opportunities to make a shot – eventually launching in the new direction.” 

Those are, in a nutshell, the four stages of Blake’s trademarked Pivot Method: plant, scan, pilot, launch. Let’s explore each of them in greater detail.

Stage one: plant 

In his groundbreaking 2011 book “The Lean Startup,” American entrepreneur Eric Ries defined a business pivot as “a change in strategy without a change in vision.” Adapting the definition, Blake describes a career pivot as a process of “doubling down on what is working to make a purposeful shift in a new, related direction.” Shifting, in other words, is best achieved when it is the result of leveraging an existing base of “strengths, interests, and experience.” That’s what the first step of pivoting – the Plant stage – is all about. 

“The primary goal of the Plant stage is grounding,” explains Blake. “Rather than aimlessly searching ‘out there’ or building from scratch, the most successful pivots start from a strong foundation of your core values, a clear understanding of your strengths and interests, and a compelling vision for the future.” Add to these three a solid financial foundation, and you’ve got the gist of pivot planting. But let’s break things down and make them easier to understand and digest.

  1. Values. “The key to the ability to change,” wrote Stephen R. Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value.” Change is chaotic and job transition – difficult only if you don’t know what your guiding principles are. Otherwise, it is all just a part of the journey. So, the first thing to do before making a career shift is to identify your top values. Only then will you be able to discern if certain career options align with who you are or steer you away from your real, authentic “you.”
  2. Vision. “Your vision,” writes Blake, “attaches a specific future-based form to your values.” In other words, “if your values are your compass, your vision is your desired destination.” So, ask yourself what success looks like one year from now. Avoid the “tyranny of the how’s”: you’ll think about the ways to reach your final destination once you know where that is. The pivot process can take you anywhere – but first, you need to know where you want to go.
  3. Strengths. In “The Big Leap,” author Gay Hendricks claims that everything we do falls into one of the following four categories: the zone of incompetence, the zone of competence, the zone of excellence, and the zone of genius. It is the last one you need to focus your energy on. There must be something that you’re uniquely suited to, not only in terms of gifts and strengths, but also in terms of engagement and interest. Discover that. Ask yourself what is working for you at your present job? Where do you excel? What did you enjoy as a kid? Study your past for patterns to find your zone of genius.
  4. Finances. “Quit your job” is not sound advice. In fact, it may be a recipe for disaster unless you have the financial resources to be jobless for a while. Almost all pivots require sound financial planning. “The more you can clarify your resource needs and bolster your financial reserves,” elucidates Blake, “the more options you have for making your next move.” Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

Stage two: scan

Once you’ve built a strong sense of where you are during the plant stage, it’s time to move to start scanning for opportunities. The aim of this stage, explains Blake, is “structured exploration, which involves research, plugging knowledge and skill gaps, having conversations, and clarifying what types of opportunities interest you most.” In essence, the scan stage involves three actions: building networks, bridging the gaps in your knowledge, and making yourself discoverable on the job market.

  1. Connect. If you’ve ever read Charles Perrault’s original version of “Cinderella,” you’ll know that the moral of that story is quite different from the one communicated by Disney. “Even if you have them in abundance,” writes Perrault, “intelligence, courage, good breeding and common sense may sometimes fail to bring you success without the blessing of a godparent.” There is a reason why phrases such as “Connections are currency” and, “Your network is your net worth” have become clichés – it’s because they’re true. The more people you know, the greater the chances you’ll hear about an open position or an employer looking to hire. More importantly, the greater the chances you’ll be recommended. To better them, expand your sphere of influence by establishing yourself as an expert at the top of your field. Express your ideas publicly. Form mutually beneficial relationships with people from all walks of life. 
  2. Learn. Networking may be as important as a degree today, but only if you’re willing to acquire another one in the process. With technology happening at an exponential rate, your current strengths can make you marketable only for a certain period of time, but they will certainly not be enough to help you reach your final destination. To mind the gap between where you are now and where you want to be a year from now, you need to be constantly on the lookout for new skills and knowledge. Constantly ask yourself how you can grow and what expertise would the future you consider a good addition to your toolkit.
  3. Discern. In today’s world, where almost everyone has a free platform for presentation, it’s not enough to be good or even great. You also have to be remarkable. You must make yourself discoverable in a way that will alert others to your current reputation and your desired future direction. This is the time to get a little bit more specific with your one-year vision. So, convert it into a project-based purpose. If your one-year vision is the what, explains Blake, consider your project-based purpose the why. As you’re scanning for projects that might suit you, ask yourself why you should take on that work? What would you want to accomplish? And where will it take you?

Stage three: pilot

In television, a pilot is a standalone test episode creators use to sell a show concept to a network. Analogously, in career pivoting, pilots are “small, low-risk experiments” you can use to test your new direction before committing to a bigger project. Pilots, explains Blake, “help gather real-time data and feedback, allowing you to adjust incrementally as you go, instead of relying on blind leaps.” The primary goal of the pilot phase is to help you reach the launch phase with as little risk as possible. You can achieve this through smart identification of pilots worth pursuing and even smarter evaluation of what worked and what didn’t during their implementation.

  1. Identify. After the scan phase, you should likely have several hypotheses about what to pursue next. There are many ways to decide which of them to pilot first, but the rule of thumb is to start with a small, low-risk project that will take you no more than 10% to 20% of your free time – and far less from your financial resources. Meaning, don’t quit your job to start a business from scratch. Rather, start an inexpensive side hustle while you’re working to test your ideas and opportunities for expansion.
  2. Implement. At first, you should aim for quantity, not quality. It’s better to try a few good pilots than one great one. Don’t worry about making mistakes. In fact, Blake encourages you to do so. Because that’s the best way to learn, provided that you have a clear framework on what real-world data you will be collecting and measure your success against. Remember, no mistake becomes a portal of discovery unless you derive something from it. And you won’t be able to derive anything unless you develop a way to measure your hypotheses against your standards and expectations. 
  3. Evaluate. After conducting a pilot, ask yourself what worked and what didn’t, as well as what you could have done differently. Use the three E’s to reach the right conclusions: enjoyment, expertise, and expansion. In other words, ask yourself the following few questions: Did you enjoy it? Were you excited to do it? Was the project suited to your expertise, i.e. was it a natural expansion of your strengths? Last but not least, does the market offer opportunities for expansion? Can you earn a living doing the same thing in the future? If the answers to most of these questions are “yes,” then start taking incrementally bigger risks in the same direction. One day, you’ll be ready to launch. 

Stage four: launch

“While piloting involves a series of continual, small experiments that provide information about your next move,” writes Blake, “the launch stage is when you make the big decision that completes your pivot. These decisions,” she warns straightaway, “do not have a guaranteed successful outcome, but you will have reduced risk throughout the pilot stage.” But how do you decide when is the proper time to launch? How do you choose change, rather than letting change choose you? The truth is few people can give you better answers to these questions than yourself. But the following two pieces of advice should be helpful.

  1. Build. Made famous by the 1989 tearjerker “Field of Dreams,” the phrase “If you build it, they will come” communicates a much too optimistic stance to ever work in the real world. However, don’t balk at it too soon. Since “launching requires a healthy dose of faith, smart risks, and adrenaline,” it’s illusory to hope for ideal circumstances and the right amount of courage to come by themselves. Rather, when your gut tells you to, take a leap of faith. But before you do, be sure to identify at least a few basic launch timing criteria, such as financial benchmarks, progress milestones and/or date-based frameworks. In other words, don’t launch your business until you have earned enough money through your side hustle or landed enough new clients to determine that the new direction is viable and income-generating. Don’t decide on these parameters on the go, but have them determined from the get-go. Otherwise, you’ll probably tweak them to suit your desires. And that’s not a great way to decide when is the right time to launch a business.
  2. Flip failure. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” hockey legend Wayne Gretzky said once (or, Michael Scott if you’d prefer). The point being, you don’t succeed in life by fearing failure; you succeed by embracing it. When Blake’s clients share their fears with her, she doesn’t pretend they are not real or that they will somehow disappear through the magic of positive thinking. Rather, she replies with: “Yep, those things might happen – but will that stop you from trying?” Ask yourself the same. If the answer is “no,” then start developing a game plan and start pivoting today. If the answer is “yes,” well, then – start developing a game plan and start pivoting tomorrow. Life is too short to let your fears guide your most important decisions. And even shorter to not experience – as famous mythologist Joseph Campbell once put it – “the true rapture of being alive.”

Final notes

Described as “well-researched, well-written, and well-organized” by the Library Journal, “Pivot” combines theory and experience with tons of helpful examples and exercise. Unsurprisingly, in the few years since it was originally published, it has been endorsed by a veritable who’s who of New York Times bestselling authors and Silicon Valley visionaries. 

If motivational speaker Jon Acuff is right when he says that pivoting is not a matter of if, but a matter of when, then do yourself a favor and let Jenny Blake to tell you the how’s, sooner rather than later. Especially if you belong to the generation born near or at the turn of the millennium. 

12min tip

Don’t be afraid to change careers – be afraid not to. Be patient, however, and don’t quit your job before devising a game plan. Remember: pivoting means doubling down on your strengths and making a purposeful shift in a new, related direction.

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Who wrote the book?

Jenny Blake is a Silicon Valley-bred career and business strategist, as well as a well-known podcaster and bestselling author. After a successful five-year stint at Google in Training and Career Development, Blake... (Read more)

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